The Strategic Use of Scandals
19 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2020
Date Written: November 2020
Scandals are pervasive in many areas of society. We propose a characterization of scandals that explicitly considers their potential benefits to transgressors. Although scandals are frequently considered to be undesirable to the targets or transgressors implicated, we develop four rationales by which a scandal can actually be beneficial to them. First, a scandal can propel an individual, organization or cause into the limelight and generate low‐cost publicity that can serve the target’s interest, e.g., by increasing the visibility and salience of a particular issue or providing them a platform to spin the scandal with the megaphone of mass media coverage. Second, a scandal target can choose to play the role of altruistic or self‐seeking scapegoat. Third, a scandal target can use a scandal as a smokescreen to divert attention from other more serious issues. Fourth, a scandal can serve as a way to disadvantage competitors or rivals. For each rationale, we suggest some conditions of its success. Anecdotal evidence and real‐world examples are also provided to illustrate and support these rationales.
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